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19th Aug 2018

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Centre-right to strike deal with centre-left on Juncker, Schulz

  • Schulz (l) and Juncker (r) were the two Spitzenkandidaten in the May elections (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

A meeting of Socialist leaders in Paris on Saturday (21 June) has endorsed Juncker for the commission top job, with the expectation that Martin Schulz stays on as European Parliament chief and the Italian foreign minister, a woman, may get the foreign affairs post to succeed Catherine Ashton.

French President Francois Hollande, the host of the meeting, said that left-wing leaders "respect" the right of the largest group in the European Parliament (EPP) to nominate a candidate for the EU commission presidency, "in this case Mr Juncker".

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Present at the meeting were the Prime Ministers of Italy, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. The Paris mini-summit is a response to a similar meeting of centre-right leaders including Britain's David Cameron and Germany's Angela Merkel in Sweden earlier this month.

Schulz, who also took part in the Paris meeting, told reporters he would formally present his candidature for the parliament presidency.

He may be confirmed as Parliament chief in the first week of July in Strasbourg, if all the pieces fall into place later this week when EU leaders meet to discuss the top posts.

Schulz said he was "quite optimistic" that EU leaders would reach a deal.

Britain's David Cameron meanwhile has not backed down from his opposition to Juncker and said he will trigger a vote in the EU council where Juncker needs to gather a 'qualified majority'.

Britain alone cannot block him and would need at least one other big state to oppose or abstain from the vote, along with Sweden, Netherlands and Hungary who have signalled scepticism in the past.

Quick deal in the EP

Meanwhile, in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People's Party is willing to back a Socialist as head of the European Parliament for two and half years, followed by an EPP president for the remaining half of the mandate.

A similar arrangement has been in place for the last eight years.

This could clear the way for Schulz - the Spitzenkandidat who came in second - to head the EP while Juncker, the EPP top candidate, gets the commission.

Speaking to EUobserver, Bavarian centre-right leader Manfred Weber, who is leading negotiations, said he wants a quick deal with the Socialists who are "our first choice as partners".

"The European elections were at the end of May. We now have late June. We want to get to work as quickly as possible following the constitution of the new Parliament in the first week of July, to be able to deliver real solutions for our citizens," Weber said.

He refused to use the term "grand coalition", but indicated that a "stable majority" with the Socialists is the only way to go forward after the result of the 25 May elections.

"The EPP Group wants to make sure the next European Commission is a commission of reform, working out a reform agenda for the next term. Based on these proposals we will seek a majority in parliament," Weber said.

He indicated he is in favour of the commission's 28 portfolios being reshuffled, possibly into "clusters" focused on the main topics and junior commissioners underneath.

"The work of the European Commission has to be organised in an efficient manner, and it must be more coherent. We need to prevent a situation in which the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It makes sense to work towards a better co-operation of different commission portfolios," Weber said.

As for the German commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, a member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, Weber said he is "doing an excellent job as commissioner for energy".

The 41-year old Weber was elected chairman of the centre-right European People's Party 221-strong group in the European Parliament. His election was non-controversial, with his predecessor - Frenchman Joseph Daul - already nominating him before the elections, one source told this website.

"They needed a 'non-German' German," the source added, explaining that Weber is a member of the smaller Christian-Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

The CSU only managed to send five MEPs the new Parliament, down from eight in 2009, while the CDU sent 29. Weber, a former justice and home affairs expert in the previous EP, is considered the most centrist of his colleagues.

German TV duel gives flavour of EU grand coalition

The 'Spitzenkandidaten' of the two largest political groups in Europe traded a few barbs in their first German-speaking tv debate, but agreed on most issues – a foretaste of a likely grand coalition after EU elections.

Cameron to force vote on Juncker nomination

UK prime minister David Cameron is to force EU leaders to vote on whether to appoint Jean Claude Juncker to become the next president of the European Commission at a summit later this week.

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